Six years ago, on an escalator coming out of a weekday movie matinee, I had a wild idea. Despite the fact that the entire audience was older, I spotted only one gray-haired woman. Covering the gray, I realized, is a way we women collude, en masse, in making ourselves invisible as older women—and when a group is invisible, so are the issues that affect it.
This behavior is understandable, to say the least. Powerful forces are at play: capitalism, sexism, ageism, misogyny, and a multi-billion-dollar anti-aging industry, to name just a few. Economists have a name—the “attractiveness penalty”—for the fact that women are judged far more harshly than men for “looking old,” and the costs of not conforming. So millions of women spend millions of dollars and millions of hours in hair salons or over the sink, coloring their roots. For some it’s fun, for others a burden, for many a costly tyranny. Those forces are extraordinarily hard to buck. But what if—what if—we acted together? What if all the women who disliked covering the gray acted together, creating the Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray. The world would see how many we are, and how lovely, and how powerful! It would be transformative!
I posted the idea on my This Chair Rocks Facebook page . . . and I got a ton of blowback. Which I deserved. Who was I to tell women how they should or shouldn’t do? Why didn’t I go first? Which I did that spring (“So I Dyed My Hair White”), continuing to bleach batches of it in the years that followed.
Then along came COVID19. During lockdown, as my bleach job grew out, your gray grew in. Millions of you—you know who you are—turned 2020 into the Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray that I dreamed of on that escalator in 2015. I’m sorry it took a pandemic. I know many of you couldn’t wait to get back to the salon. No judgement, I swear. But I’m thrilled to see so many women outing themselves as older in this way, making peace or more with what they see, and claiming their full identities as older women. We are a force. The Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray is just one way of making it gloriously visible.